Education for Girls in Cambodia

Len conducts an interview during her
internship with the Cambodia Daily Newspaper.

The Reality

Earlier this year UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon made the point that the opportunity to receive an education is more often a right than a reality for "too many women and girls". 

Twenty-year-old Len Leng was very nearly one of those who missed out on an education. Had she bowed to her demands of her impoverished parents, her education – like that of most Cambodian girls would have ended after primary school.

However, determination and drive saw Len complete 12 years of schooling and then secure a scholarship to study media and communications in Phnom Penh. She has her sights set on a PhD, a career in journalism, and then perhaps a subsequent degree in politics as an independent.

"Some people think I'm crazy; however, I want to achieve what I can do in my life."

Len's is the kind of success that Cambodia needs much more of, but the generally poor state of education and insufficient cash and skills make that task much harder. Cultural factors are also to blame, says a recent report by the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA) and Plan Cambodia.

"Despite all of the efforts engaged at the community level to promote the importance of girls' education, the value and parents' understanding of the importance of education are still limited, especially for girls aiming at access to higher education," it states.

In its 2012 'Because I am a Girl' report, which assesses the situation facing girls around the world, Plan International notes that the education figures are the worst among poor families and in rural areas. This is a particular concern in Cambodia where 80 percent of the population lives off of the land.

Ethnic minorities are also affected. This combination, common to many countries, reduces the chance that a girl who is attending school will remain in attendance. Worldwide, says UNESCO, 39 million girls aged 11-15 are not in school.

The Goal

Plan wants all governments to ensure that every girl receives at least nine years of schooling. That is a tall order in Cambodia where just 20 percent of young women make it to Grade 10. In Len's case, only three of the more than 20 girls who start Grade 1 complete Grade 12.

Women's rights are at the heart of Cambodia's anti-poverty strategy, and the government has set a series of gender-related targets covering education, health, and domestic violence ahead of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals deadline.

There has been progress, but a litany of challenges means that many school girls will need to be as driven as Len'. Outside of school, Len spends some of her spare time telling students to study hard, volunteer within their communities, and perhaps most importantly, that they have the right to choose their own futures.